From Cold War to "New Cold War:" Politics and Political Theory in Contemporary China

Fall 2022, Fall 2023; Stanford University


"China lacks everything: middle managers, engineers and capital," so wrote French political thinker Raymond Aron. That was 1950, three years after Harry Truman's 1947 Address to Congress, which was usually considered the beginning of the Cold War, and months after the founding of the People's Republic of China. More than seventy years later, and after a long, winding journey, China now has much more than middle managers, engineers, and capital. However, global politics seems to move towards another clash of two powerful countries with seemingly different ideological orientations as many now claim that a new Cold War is on the horizon. How did China emerge as a global power from what Aron described in 1950? And more importantly, can we, and if so, how do we, understand the rise of China with a theoretical perspective? How do theory and real politics shape each other, as manifested in the history of contemporary China? In this class, we explore answers to these questions by reading political theory against history, sociology, and political science. In every week, we read texts that reflect both the social reality and theoretical concerns of a given period in contemporary Chinese history. By so doing, we seek to make sense of both the contemporary Chinese society and the power and limits of ideas in political theory.

Political Memory and Democratic Citizenship

Spring 2022, Spring 2023; Stanford University


We may not always realize it, but political discussions often invoke historical memory. As we debate about political ideas and praxes, we often draw on history to criticize our interlocutors and build our arguments. Meanwhile, historical memory also deeply shapes how we think about politics. For example, our rejection of Nazism is closely linked to memories of the Holocaust. Our debates about racial politics in the US are inevitably intertwined with historical readings of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. New politics often offers new historical readings and counters mainstream, commonsensical understandings of the past. Because historical memory is so crucial to politics, and because what is considered collective memory often varies from community to community, it is essential that we try to understand the relationship between memory, politics, and citizenship. In this class, we engage with both theoretical resources and empirical cases to discuss the following questions: How does memory form communal identity? How does memory shape our conception of justice, political agency, and legitimacy? Are there democratic ways of approaching history? Is remembering always good for democratic politics? As we come up with answers to these questions, we develop a better sense of how our identity as democratic citizens is linked to historical and collective memory.

Modern Political Thought

Spring 2020, Spring 2021; IU Bloomington


At the beginning of 2020, it seems safe to say we are in an era of political change, both domestically and internationally. Many who live in advanced Western capitalist societies believe the problem is that the political norms of these societies are either being eroded from within or being challenged by the rise of nonliberal democratic regimes globally. Others, however, claim that the development of Western societies in the past several decades has betrayed, or at least deviated from, important modern political values, such as freedom, equality, autonomy, reason, etc. These ideas that are being heatedly debated right now originated in the upheavals of early modern Europe. The long history of modern political thought not only reflected the explosive social changes during those centuries but also fueled many of these changes. The thinkers we will read in this class, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, de Maistre, Mill, Marx, and Weber, are products of the radical transformation of their societies. In turn, their political theories inspire later generations to fight for (or against) things we value. Since these thinkers’ ideas constitute a major part of our political language today, it is important to develop an understanding of them in order to make sense of our own political world today and to think about ways of improving, or even possible alternatives to, our society.

Teaching Experience as Assistant